Preparing for Tomorrow without Presumption
Topic: Faith Passage: James 4:13–4:17
Preparing for Tomorrow without Presumption
Pastor Allen Snapp
We’re picking back up with James 4 and come to a particularly appropriate passage for us to look at two days before the New Year: James 4:13-17 (pray)
Years ago I read about a guy who drove up to a gas station, went inside and calmly robbed the gas station attendant of all the money in the register, got back in his car and drove away. But he only got a block down the road when his car ran out of gas.
Apart from the irony of a guy robbing a gas station and then running out of gas, this true story contains two important lessons for us: 1) Crime doesn’t pay. And 2) planning ahead does pay. A pre-heist checklist that included “gas up the getaway car” would really have come in handy!
As we stand on the brink of a new year, hopefully no one is planning to rob a gas station, but we all have things we’d like to see happen, things we want to accomplish, goals we’d like to achieve, maybe some changes we’d like to make and habits we’d like to break in the coming year but those goals and hopes and dreams will only happen if we take the time to do some planning.
Ben Franklin once said by failing to prepare you are preparing to fail. One of the definitions of prepare is to work out the details of and plan in advance. Planning in advance helps us not run out of gas in the middle of an endeavor. Planning in advance helps us anticipate tomorrow’s problems and leverage tomorrow’s opportunities today. The Bible encourages us to plan in advance. For instance, Prov. 21:5 says,
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
Jesus himself warned us that if we don’t calculate the cost of a project before we begin it, we may get halfway through the project and find we’ve run out of money and can’t finish what we’ve started (kind of like running out of gas). People who don’t plan in advance encounter problems and frustrations that a little bit of planning could have helped them avoid.
So why does James seem to prohibit planning ahead: 13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money. Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow.”
James is talking to businessmen who are making plans and setting goals for the next year and it seems like he’s rebuking them for planning out the next year because they don’t even know what tomorrow holds. And he’s right, we never really know what tomorrow holds but is that a good reason not to plan for tomorrow? None of us can be certain of what 2019 holds for us, but does that mean we shouldn’t make any plans for 2019? Is that what James is saying?
Maybe you’re planning a dream vacation that you have been saving for for years. But you don’t know what the New Year holds, so should you stop saving and planning that vacation? Janice and I plan on attending the Grace Partnership conference in January and getting some time with our daughter, son in law and grandsons while down there. But we’d be in bad shape if we waited til the day we wanted to leave to try to book a flight. Is that what James is telling us to do? Maybe you’re saving for a new home, or planning a wedding, or maybe you’re a businessman/woman like the people James is talking to and you’ve been looking at a promising new business market and making plans to expand your business into that market. Is that wrong? Because we don’t know what 2019 holds, or even what tomorrow holds, is James telling us to take everything a day at a time, never plan ahead, and just hope things work out?
Or…is James saying something else? Is he making a different point than “don’t plan for tomorrow cause you don’t know what tomorrow holds”?
When we read the entire context we see that James isn’t telling us not to prepare for tomorrow, he’s warning us not to be presumptuous about tomorrow. 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.
The problem isn’t that they’re planning for tomorrow, the problem is they are boasting about tomorrow. They are presuming all their plans will go as planned: on a certain day we will go to a certain city, spend a certain amount of time there, and make a certain amount of money. It’s the boasting (not the planning) that James says is evil.
The uncertainty of tomorrow
Few things can discourage presumption and encourage humility like remembering how fragile our lives are and how uncertain tomorrow is. We are like a mist that is here today and gone tomorrow. The Bible tells us this over and over again. One of the most powerful descriptions is found in Psalm 103:15-16
As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it (NIV: remembers it) no more.
We are like grass or flowers – we flourish for a short time but then the wind passes over our lives and we are gone. And our place remembers us no more. Our lives are brief and quickly forgotten.
I finally bit the bullet and sent away for one of those Ancestry.com packets. While I await my DNA testing, I’ve been able to fill out some of my family tree. I knew next to nothing about my family tree beyond my mom, dad, and grandmother on my mom’s side. My dad’s mom died long before I was born. My dad’s dad died when I was 3 or 4 years old so I only remember meeting him once when I was very young; same with my grandfather on my mom’s side. I owe my existence to them but I didn’t even know their names. They once lived and laughed and loved and cried and planned and succeeded and failed and all the things we do now, but like the flower of the field, like grass, like a mist, the wind passed over their lives and they are gone, and there’s no one left who remembers them. Its place remembers it no more.
James says our lives are like mist that can blow away at any moment. Just a week ago (Dec 23) an Indonesian pop band called Seventeen was performing on the beach when a tsunami hit their stage. All the band members and the lead vocalist’s wife was swept out to sea and killed. Only the band’s singer survived. They were literally in the middle of a performance when the 10 foot wave struck their bandstage from behind – no one saw it coming and no one would have dreamed they were living their last moments on earth. That is a reality we all live within. We don’t know. We never really know.
As Christians, this shouldn’t lead us to despair or fatalism, rather James says we should live each day with a sense of dependency on God: 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James doesn’t mean we have to say the words if the Lord wills each time we make a plan, he means we should live with a heart posture of humble dependency on God.
Our lives are uncertain and fragile. Our tomorrow’s are uncertain and so much is beyond our control. We think we have control until something happens to show us we don’t. Living in arrogant presumption is foolish, living in humble dependence on God is wise and realistic.
If you read the verses surrounding the verses I just read from Ps. 103 the bigger picture of how God views our lives fills out. Yes, we are like grass, yes the wind blows over us and we are gone and our place remembers us no more. But God sees us as His children (verse 13-14)
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust. (Ps. 103:13-14)
And God loves us:
from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts. (Ps. 103:17-18)
Our place might not remember us, but God does. And He loves us. God is from everlasting to everlasting and He sees generations come and generations go and His love extends from generation to generation for those who keep His covenant. He has compassion on us, He cares for us. On the one hand our lives are dust, on the other hand our lives are precious to God. And that’s what our security is built on: God. Our security isn’t found in our plans for tomorrow, our security is found in our God’s faithfulness. Our hope isn’t built on our plans for tomorrow, our hope is built on God’s plan of salvation.
Jesus came to save us. To rescue us from sin and death. On the cross the tsunami of God’s wrath for sin washed over Jesus in full force and he absorbed it so that we might never experience God’s wrath. Jesus came to rescue us from death and hell. He came to rescue us for eternity and heaven. When our last tomorrow on earth comes, and the wind passes over us and we are gone, we are assured in Christ that we will awaken to an eternity of tomorrows in heaven. No more pain, no more tears, no more death. Jesus came to save us from death unto life. This is freely given to all who believe in Christ. If you’ve never trusted in Christ, won’t you reach out to him in faith right now? Ask him to come into your life and save you. He promises that he will never turn away any who come to him in faith.
Our hope is built on God’s plan of salvation. But the Greek word for salvation – sozo – means more than going to heaven although that is our greatest hope in Christ. It also means to be preserved from evil and danger and to be healed. Everyday we can bring our requests for healing and help and safety to God and ask Him to lead us and bless us today, tomorrow, and always. And so we still plan. I’ve got plans for 2019 and I hope you do to. But those plans live under the good words, “if the Lord wills”. If the Lord wills, we can depend on Him to help us with our plans. If He doesn’t will, we can trust that His plans are better. Because God is wiser than we are and He loves us more than we love ourselves.
“If the Lord wills” isn’t meant to keep us from preparing for the future, it’s meant to protect us from presuming on the future. We should prepare for tomorrow, we shouldn’t be presumptuous about tomorrow. We humbly depend on the Lord for every breath, every heartbeat, every day, everything.
The last verse seems to be a little out of step with the rest of the passage: 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
Actually James touches on something super-important but easily overlooked. In verse 17 James doesn’t zero in on what we plan, he zeroes in on what we fail to plan: the good we ought to do. It’s sin to know the good we ought to do and not do it. Talking about sins of omission which are harder to recognize than sins of commission because they are sins of absence.
There are sinful actions and there are sinful inactions – inactions like not doing good, not helping the hurting, not showing compassion to the needy, not sharing the good news of Jesus with people in our lives. We’re used to asking questions like “what’d you do today?” But we may not be used to asking, “what’d you fail to do today?” or “what should you have done today but didn’t?” James reminds us that in God’s sight there are actions that are sinful by their absence just as there are actions that are sinful by their presence.
See, if we measure our godliness simply by what we don’t do: I don’t gamble, cuss, cheat, lie, kill, gossip, etc, etc. we’re going to define godliness by absence of action, what we don’t do. But we run the risk of becoming non-entities in God’s kingdom. We don’t contribute, we don’t add, we don’t build, we don’t serve. God wants more from us and more for us than that. Because much of the joy God gives us comes from serving Him.
We stand at the brink of 2019. When next we meet again, it will be a new year. And I encourage us all to make plans for the new year. We don’t want to run out of gas midway through because we didn’t plan ahead. But God wants us to depend on Him for all our plans and all the things coming our way that we can’t plan. And God wants us to proactively plan good into the year.
- Strengthen old friendships and make new friends in the Lord.
- Look for ways to serve and contribute to the kingdom.
- Help to lead someone to Christ
- Pray for at least one person who is in your circle of relationships who doesn’t know the Lord. Ron Hutchcraft offers this “three-open prayer”
- Pray that God would open the door for the message – praying for the opportunity to share Christ with them
- Pray that God would open their heart
- Pray that God would open my mouth to share the gospel
- After praying, look for ways to engage
- We can disengage from people – it’s inconvenient, we don’t know what to do, we don’t relate to unbelievers.
- Let’s look for ways to build relational bridges
- Invite over for a meal
- To watch a football game
- Meet a need they have (help them do a construction project in their home, or yardwork, or watch their kids)
- Invite them
- To church or to community group
- A lot of people would go to church if invited by a friend
- Invite them to pray to receive Christ
Let’s plan the good God wants us to do in the new year and then trust Him to bless it.